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Bullies Need Guidance

I suppose every school has bullies. I remember running into high-school bullies who didn’t like my nerdy appearance, or who took offense when I talked to a certain girl in Latin class. Almost the entire high school turned bully in 1968, the year a handful of brave African-American students became the first to integrate our all-white enclave. I saw cruelty up close, but don’t remember any of the adults instructing us to be nicer. Some of us really needed an authority figure to spell things out for us.Bullying can make a child’s life miserable, turn him or her against school, and lead to long-lasting psychological issues. Too many times, children (and for this purpose, high-schoolers still fit into that category) have resorted to self-harm, even to suicide in response to being bullied.

The North Carolina legislature has been debating an anti-bullying bill for two years. The House passed it last year (H1366). The Senate also passed it, but only after stripping out “enumeration language” designed to spell out various categories of people who should not be bullied. As a result, the bill is now in a conference committee as the House and Senate try to work out a mutually acceptable bill.

Those categories include references to gender orientation or expression, which certainly seems appropriate, given that real or assumed gay or lesbian teens are among those most likely to be tormented. Including the specific language, however, stirred up opposition–mainly from conservative Christians–who think including a reference to gender preference somehow gives unwarranted legitimacy or protected status to homosexual lifestyles.

Christian Action League director Mark Creech, in a call to prayer over the bill, calls it a wolf in sheep’s clothing. “Despite the arguments of its proponents,” he writes, “it is not about prohibiting bullying in North Carolina’s public schools as much as it is about teaching our children that homosexuality and other alternate sexual behaviors are perfectly normal and acceptable.”

In an earlier post, Creech argued that including a reference to gender identity or expression elevates homosexuality to the same level as “race, color, ancestry, national origin, gender, physical appearance, mental, physical, or sensory disability.” These, he says, are “immutable characteristics,” while gender orientation, he insists, is not.

Creech does not use the word “choice,” but his reference to homosexuality as “sexual perversion” that can be changed clearly implies a belief that gays and lesbians have intentionally chosen behavior that deviates from the accepted norm.

On the other hand, the North Carolina Council of Churches, which tends to take a more liberal approach, has endorsed the bill. George Reed, who lobbies and reports on the legislature for the NCCC, reported on the bill in the most recent Raleigh Report, and urged supporters in an e-mail blast to contact their senators and representatives in support of the bill.

Reed contends that the reference to gender identity or expression is appropriate because it helps to protect students who are most likely to be harrassed. Claims that the language gives homosexual persons any greater status than they presently have are misguided, he says, citing this clarifying statement from the bill: “Nothing in this act shall be construed to create any classification or preference beyond those existing in present statute or case law.”

What’s a Christian to do? Voices from the Christian right oppose any language that might be perceived as giving societal legitimacy to homosexual lifestyles. Voices from the Christian left insist that the children most likely to be picked on–including those who identify themselves as homosexuals–deserve all the protection they can get.

I’m personally in favor of including the “enumeration” language in the bill. I believe gays and lesbians deserve the same level of respect as heterosexuals, and have observed that bullies tend to need things spelled out for them in no uncertain terms. Being a Baptist, however, I’m inclined to suggest that each person should study the matter and make up their own mind.

Those who want to oppose the inclusion of enumeration language in the bill can add their name to the opposition and send an e-mail form letter by clicking here.

Those who favor including the language can do the same by clicking here.

The legislature hopes to finish up and go home this week. If you want to be heard before it’s too late, you need to get clicking.

Tony Cartledge is associate professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School and a contributing editor to Baptists Today. This column appeared earlier on his Baptists Today blog.